GULFPORT, MS - Protesters rallied together on beach boulevard on Saturday afternoon to oppose a decision by the upcoming Mississippi Aquarium.
Through a demonstration called Empty the Tanks, they voiced their concerns about plans to include dolphins at the new aquarium being built in Gulfport. The protest was organized by concerned citizens and the animal welfare group, In Defense of Animals.
The animal rights activists were seen holding signs that said "Say no to dolphins in captivity" and "Dolphins belong free in the sea." The group got the attention of cars traveling down Highway 90 in front of the construction site.
The protesters say they don't have a problem with the aquarium as a whole, but they are opposed to the planned dolphin display. They say dolphins are too intelligent and emotionally aware to be kept in captivity.
"These animals don't thrive in concrete tanks. They aren't able to live with their families in their natural habitat. I think it's a huge step backwards for us," said Taylor Owen.
Owen calls it a step backwards because she says this a time when aquariums are getting rid of dolphin exhibits, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore, among others. "Mexico city actually announced it's no longer legal to have dolphins in captivity. So it's happening all over the globe not just here in the U.S.," she stated.
Kelly McNab Williams says instead of putting the dolphins in tanks, there should be boat excursions to teach people about dolphins in their natural habitat. "We're directly across where we could have excursions on boats to see dolphins. That's how you teach children. You teach them that it's inhumane to put something in a cage for your entertainment," she explained.
Owen noted, "It will be amazing for the city and for tourism, but it can be successful without having these animals in captivity."
Mississippi Aquarium President and C-E-O David Kimmel responded to the protests saying "We all care about animals. We have that in common. We just go about it differently. Nobody cares about animals more than we do."
Kimmel added, "We are going to be an accredited aquarium and the care of our animals is always our number one priority. Our professionals are certified and they will give the utmost care to our animals; and create enrichment for them; in habitats that will be far beyond what the government mandates."
The Mississippi Aquarium is scheduled to open in 2019 or early 2020.